Recommendations for Calcium - a Nutrient of Concern

The Institute of Medicine set calcium recommendations intended to promote good bone health throughout life.1 Calcium also plays many other vital roles, helping our muscles contract, our heart beat and nerve cells communicate.1 Unfortunately, many Canadians fail to meet their daily calcium requirements,2 putting them at risk of poor bone health, osteoporosis and fractures.

Petite fille versant soigneusement du lait dans son verre

Calcium recommendations outlined in the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) report aim to help people achieve calcium balance and maintain good bone health.1 These recommendations are based on a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence. Adequate calcium is critical for building strong bones in childhood, achieving peak bone mass in young adulthood, and maintaining bone density to reduce the risk of fractures as we age.3

Recommended daily calcium intakes

The DRI report outlines recommended daily calcium intakes for different age groups as Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs):1

Age Group Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs)
1 to 3 years 700 mg/day
4 to 8 years 1000 mg/day
9 to 18 years 1300 mg/day
19 to 50 years 1000 mg/day
51 to 70 years (men) 1000 mg/day
51 to 70 years (women) 1200 mg/day
71 years or older 1200 mg/day

The RDAs1 are similar to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations,4 that range from 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium daily for people 10 years and older, depending on life stage.

In practice

Calcium is essential for bone health throughout life,1,3 however far too many Canadians don’t get enough.2 Milk products are an important source of calcium, vitamin D, protein and other key bone building nutrients that help to:3

  • Promote healthy growth and development in children
  • Build peak bone mass in teens and young adults
  • Maintain bone density in middle-aged adults
  • Prevent frailty, falls and fractures in older adults

Calcium plays many vital functions

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body and every cell depends on it to function properly. Most of the body’s calcium supply, 99% is found in our bones and teeth, where it plays a key role in supporting their structure and strength.1 Calcium is also involved in many other vital functions such as the healthy regulation of blood pressure5 and heartbeat.6 According to the Institute of Medicine, calcium is needed for muscle function, vascular contraction and vasodilation, nerve transmission, signaling within the body’s cells and secretion of hormones.1 In addition, some studies suggest consuming adequate calcium as part of a balanced diet may play a role in supporting optimal weight management.7

Calcium is a nutrient of concern for Canadians

Health Canada has identified calcium as a nutrient of concern for Canadians because many do not get enough from the foods they consume.2 Calcium intake from food sources declined significantly over an 11-year period, resulting in widespread calcium inadequacy among Canadians.8 The decrease in Canadians’ dietary calcium intake between 2004 and 2015 is attributed to a decrease in milk product intakes.8

The prevalence of inadequate calcium intakes from foods is high in Canada, based on the Canadian Community Health Survey (2015) data.8

Prevalence of calcium inadequacy in Canada8

Age group Male Female
71+ y 91% 97%
51-70 y 64% 94%
31-50 y 52% 78%
19-30 y 44% 73%
14-18 y 66% 86%
9-13 y 73% 82%
1-8 y* 42% 42%

The consequences of inadequate calcium intakes

Unfortunately, calcium deficiency often goes unrecognized until it’s too late. That’s because calcium is so vital that blood levels of calcium are tightly controlled to ensure they stay in the normal range. If we don’t consume enough calcium, our body will draw the calcium it needs from our bones. This weakens bones leaving them more vulnerable to fractures over time.

Without enough calcium, bones deteriorate over years without noticeable signs or symptoms until a bone is fractured. That’s why osteoporosis is known as the “silent thief” and is often said to be a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences.9 One in three women, and one in five men, will suffer from fractures due to osteoporosis in their lifetime.9 In fact, osteoporotic fractures are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.9

How milk products help meet calcium needs

Research shows that eating milk products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, which are reliable sources of calcium and other bone building nutrients, can make a real difference to bone health throughout life.3 According to the 2016 position statement from the U.S. National Osteoporosis Foundation, calcium, vitamin D and milk products are important for achieving peak bone mass in young adulthood, which is a key predictor of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.3 Eating three typical servings of milk products a day goes a long way towards meeting daily needs for calcium. 

Calcium content of some common foods10

Milk (whole, 2%, 1%, skim) 250 mL (1 cup) 310
Cheddar cheese 50 g (1.5 oz) 337
Mozzarella cheese 50 g (1.5 oz) 288
Yogurt, plain 175 mL (3/4 cup) 272
 Yogurt, flavoured 175 mL (3/4 cup) 206
Greek yogurt* 175 mL (3/4 cup) 170-500
 Kefir, plain 250 mL (1 cup) 267
Bok choy 125 mL (1/2 cup) 84
Kale 125 mL (1/2 cup) 49
Broccoli 125 mL (1/2 cup) 33
 Almonds 60 mL (1/4 cup) 97
 Sesame seeds 60 mL (1/4 cup) 23
Edamame 125 mL (1/2 cup) 138
White beans 125 mL (1/2 cup) 85
Red kidney beans 125 mL (1/2 cup) 26
Hummus 30 mL (2 tbsp) 12
Canned sardines with bones 75 g (2.5 oz) 286
Canned salmon with bones 75 g (2.5 oz) 212
Calcium-fortified plant-based beverages 250 mL (1 cup) 318
Tofu, regular, firm or extra firm (prepared with calcium sulphate) 85 g (3 oz) 171
The calcium added to plant-based beverages may not be as well absorbed as the calcium naturally found in cow’s milk and it tends to settle at the bottom of the container, even after vigorous shaking.
Learn more about why milk products are the most reliable source of calcium here
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